Today’s tech-savvy bookkeepers are in the midst of an identity crisis.
While the function of bookkeeping is more important than ever before, the profession looks nothing like it did 20 years, or even 2 years, ago. While that sentiment may be a bit unnerving (especially if you’re a bookkeeper), according to Sherri-Lee Mathers, it’s actually the most exciting thing about the industry today.
The industry advancements in cloud computing and automation have made data entry a thing of the past. But more importantly, these advancements have also paved the way for new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) to be leveraged in accounting. With such a radical transformation underway, Sherri-Lee is confident that the term “bookkeeper” is out, and something more appropriate like “Accounting Data Manager,” “Accounting Technologist,” or “Accounting Workflow Specialist,” is in—titles that better highlight the shift in functions and responsibilities.
As Sherri-Lee explains, “Do we hear the title ‘typist’ being used any longer? No! We now have admin or executive assistants whose responsibilities are so much broader than just typing.” This shift echoes that of many other jobs that have evolved over time with the impact of technology, such as file clerks, switchboard operators, and even door-to-door salespeople. A Certified Professional Bookkeeper herself with more than 20 years of small business experience, Sherri-Lee believes that bookkeeping is long overdue for a similar rebrand.
For Sherri-Lee, her mission to evolve her own bookkeeping practice began with hosting her desktop software. Things then quickly shifted in 2015 when she recertified with QuickBooks Online and adopted a receipt-scanning solution that she calls her “gateway drug” to automation and the cloud. With an arsenal of new tools, Sherri-Lee transformed her own practice Balsam Way Bookkeeping, and now uses different cloud-based applications, along with artificial intelligence, to bring her clients into the 21st century. As she explains:
“As an early adopter, I saw an opportunity to anticipate the changes technology is bringing to the bookkeeping world. I am seeing that clients are empowered, rather than fearful of these changes."
But while receipt scanning software solved many of Sherri-Lee’s problems, there was always another manual data entry task that seemed to slow everything down. It was the data entry associated with payroll that caused her the most headaches. “With payroll, there were so many little things to plug in, especially when it came to personal employee information. It took hours out of the day, often involving me tracking down the information or trying to translate poor handwriting,” she laments. In fact, it was the burden of data entry that almost caused Sherri-Lee to leave the profession altogether. As she puts it, “I was going to get out because I dislike data entry. What kept me in was new technologies and innovations that allowed me to use my brain and truly help my clients.”
Unsatisfied with many of the options out there, Sherri-Lee again turned to technology for a solution. “I wanted as much as possible to be automated,” she says, “and that's how I discovered Knit for payroll. Knit is designed specifically for the cloud and offloads a ton of the manual processes and responsibilities not just at the employee onboarding stage, but throughout the payroll cycle.” After onboarding a few clients with Knit, Sherri-Lee immediately noticed that she wasn’t spending nearly as much time on data entry setup as she used to. She attributes this to the fact that clients have their own client portal, which allows them to input the data on their own, without the need to go through her first. “Employees also have their own portal, where they can just log in, sign the employee contract, and upload their driver's license,” she explains. “Essentially, they are empowered and do it all themselves. I love how Knit has made certain tasks, like updating personal information, an employee’s responsibility.” And for Sherri-Lee, the time she gets back is priceless.
“Knit’s automation removed the ‘payroll time wasters’ that took me away from the work I enjoy. But more importantly, it has empowered my clients and their employees to access their portal at any time. Whether it’s viewing their paystubs, T4s, and ROEs, changing an address, or even looking at how much vacation time they have, it’s total empowerment!.”
She adds that giving employees access to personal details such as their email or mailing address also helps the small business owner to spend less time updating personal data, and more time actually running their company.
“For the owner, they’re experiencing the same lack of interruption of small little things like ‘Where’s my pay stub?’”
As a result of integrating Knit with other cloud-based solutions, Sherri-Lee began to notice her role as a bookkeeper undergoing a major transformation. Instead of spending her time on labour-intensive tasks such as sorting through receipts or updating payroll information, all of these tasks were now automated.
Part of the transformation of her role involves the advent of AI, which is helping Sherri-Lee do more for her clients. For Sherri-Lee, her focus has shifted to making sure that the data entering these systems is clean, accurate, and reliable from the outset and in a form available to other apps to leverage AI—a journal entry just won’t cut it any longer. She goes on to explain, “if a business owner is looking at a report or dashboard created with inaccurate data, they could be making key decisions based on incomplete or incorrect information. That’s why the data has to be right from the start.” She jokes, “You know ‘garbage in, garbage out’, and garbage certainly doesn’t make for empowered decision making.”
To explain the changing nature of her role away from data entry, Sherri-Lee now refers to herself as an “Accounting Data Manager” and uses this in place of “bookkeeper”—a term she feels has run its course. Again she reiterates, “Our roles are changing because we now focus on process, design, and interpretation, instead of data entry. Data is no longer a ‘low level’ word. The bookkeeper of yesterday is the Accounting Data Manager or Accounting Workflow Specialist of today, and we must be constantly educating ourselves as technology continues to accelerate.” She adds,
“Technology is changing at an unprecedented rate, and with it, the profession is evolving and changing. As a result, our terminology needs to evolve otherwise people will have a limited vision of what we do.”
At the end of the day, Sherri-Lee is certain that cloud technology is now an expectation, rather than an exception for forward-thinking business, and bookkeepers need to start preparing for their new role. When asked about preparing for the future, Sherri-Lee believes that today’s bookkeepers need to shift their mindset away from being reactionary to new technologies. Instead, they need to anticipate change and be curious, versatile, and most importantly, never complacent.
“It’s time to say goodbye to being a ‘traditionalist.”
Sherri-Lee Mathers: This CPB leverages her two+ decades of business experience and marketing background to boldly go in areas not traveled by the average bookkeeper. With a quirky sense of humour, she’s a self-professed early adopter who embraces technology, tending to ‘cannonball” right into the deep end of the “cloud tech pool”—dog paddling her way to “work smarter, not harder.” Sherri-Lee founded Balsam Way Bookkeeping in 2009. As a business owner herself, she understands bookkeeping is about more than just the nuts and bolts; it’s about keeping lifelong dreams well-funded and running smoothly. Sherri-Lee is a member of Intuit’s Writer Trainer Network, has a Business Administration Diploma in Accounting, Advanced Certified in QuickBooks Online, as well she’s certified and proficient with a number of business and accounting apps.